(No. 7) San Antonio Spurs 94 at (No. 2) Dallas Mavericks 100
Unlike the regular season, the playoffs are a sprint, not a marathon. The first hurdle in the Dallas Mavericks' way are the San Antonio Spurs, a familiar obstacle in the championship chase. That hurdle became a shorter leap on Sunday night.
Thanks to a vintage playoff performance from Dirk Nowitzki and a stellar Dallas postseason debut for Caron Butler, the Mavericks overcame 71 combined points from San Antonio's "Big Three" of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. The end result was a 100-94 win on the American Airlines Center floor in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series. The victory not only gave the Mavs the early edge in the series, it also allowed the team to maintain the home-court advantage.
"That was the way we wanted to start the series," Nowitzki said of the win. "We didn't want to give up the home-court advantage."
"This time of year brings out the best in everybody," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said.
Game 1 definitely brought out the best in Carlisle's crew.
With Ginobili aggressively attacking the rim, the Spurs struck first. But Butler and the Mavs were also on the attack, as No. 4 quickly drew two fouls on Richard Jefferson with dribble penetration in the opening quarter.
"(Butler) got it going in the first half, and a lot of his early points were not necessarily out of plays we were running for him but out of just playing basketball," Carlisle said. "Then we started to run some stuff for him and he delivered."
Then Nowitzki began to assert himself, swishing in an array of one-legged, fadeaway jumpers. The Dallas defense also elevated its play, making up for a cold-shooting first quarter. With an offensive surge at the end of the period led by Jason Kidd, the Mavs opened up a 23-18 edge after one.
Dallas escaped with the lead despite an 8-for-22 shooting quarter, compared to San Antonio's 9-of-20 at the other end.
The Spurs went back to Ginobili in the second quarter, as the veteran swingman got his club back into the game. But the quarter was a battle of the big men, as Mavs center Brendan Haywood and DeJuan Blair exchanged powerful finishes above the rim. Nowitzki and Duncan also got into the mix. But the advantage on the scoreboard went the Mavs' way, taking a 50-45 lead at the midway point after Nowitzki's three-point play with .8 on the clock.
"We struggled a little at the beginning of the game, and then when we finally got our bearings, we did a better job," the coach explained.
Dallas' great offensive balance helped the home team to the edge despite being out-shot 59 percent to 43 percent in the first half. Nowitzki's 19 points, Butler's 13 and Haywood's 10 overpowered Ginobili's 15 points to led the Spurs. Duncan pitched in 12 after 24 minutes of play.
Nowitzki and company got right back to work in the third quarter. But Ginobili and his crew didn't skip a beat either, helping the Spurs as they briefly went in front with an 11-2 run.
"They made a run, but we did a great job of making adjustments and getting stops on the defensive end," Shawn Marion said.
In a seesaw quarter, the two teams exchanged the lead with virtually every basket scored in the early minutes. Fortunately the Mavs reached the bonus at the 4:59-mark of the third, allowing the squad to get to the free throw line with every San Antonio foul.
"Anytime you can get into the bonus early it helps. It was a very hard-fought, aggressive game. The whistle was blown some and there was contact both ways," Carlisle said.
The Mavs also exploited Nowitzki's match up with Matt Bonner, as No. 41 took advantage of single coverage.
"I'm going to take whatever they give me," Nowitzki simply said.
Then it was center Erick Dampier's responsibility to cash in at the charity stripe, as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich implemented his "hack-a-Damp" strategy to send the 7-footer to the foul line. Dampier handled the load just fine, as Dallas entered the final period up 76-69.
"My teammates just told me to be myself," Butler said. "Don't try to do too much, just be myself."
"We definitely needed some scoring from somewhere else and Caron was big," Nowitzki added.
Meanwhile, Dallas' defensive stops turned into transition scoring opportunities and a double-digit lead. When the Spurs went on a brief spurt, Marion kept the Mavs at a safe distance ahead. Then Nowitzki re-entered the game and got back to terrorizing the Spurs' defenders. But it was Jason Terry that secured the game, pouring in a 3-pointer with 1:55 left to put the Mavs in front 100-88. San Antonio's 6-0 run to end the game was too little, too late.
The Mavs held on for the win despite allowing the Spurs to shoot 50 percent on the night, compared to Dallas' 47 percent. A 45-37 rebounding advantage in Dallas' favor certainly helped. But it was the Mavs' 25-of-34 at the foul line that made the biggest difference, attempting 20 more shots at the line than San Antonio.
"(The free throw discrepancy) was a factor...Getting to the free throw line is a really important thing in the playoffs," Carlisle said.
Nowitzki's game-high 36 points came on 12-of-14 from the field and a perfect 12-for-12 at the foul line. The nine-time All-Star has now made 86 straight free throws.
Butler added 22 points, connecting on 8 of 19 shots in his first playoff game in a Dallas uniform.
"Tonight it was my turn to shine," Butler said. "It will be other guys on other nights. We have a lot of firepower."
"(Butler) is a guy that's not afraid," Carlisle said. "He wants the ball in those (clutch) situations. He's been in the playoffs multiple times and he played well for us."
Meanwhile, Kidd once again filled up the stat sheet, tallying 13 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. He also limited Ginobili's scoring opportunities late in the game on the defensive end, something that won't show up in any statistical category.
"Kidd played great," his coach said. "He was sensational in really all areas. In the second half, he gave us a spark defensively on Ginobili and when he was guarding their point guards. He's been great all year and it's no surprise that he carried it into tonight."
But looking forward in the series, the Mavericks will look for an answer for Duncan, Ginobili and Parker. Duncan's 27 points in 40 game minutes came on 12 of 20 shots. Ginobili finished with 26, while Parker came off the bench to post 18 points. Stopping the three potent scorers heads Dallas' list of adjustments for Game 2.
"They're tough. They've got Duncan on the block and Ginobili and Parker making things happen," Nowitzki said.
Still, the Mavericks enter Game 2 looking for a 2-0 edge before the series shifts to San Antonio. The second matchup in the best-of-seven series will air nationally Wednesday night on TNT and locally on KTXA and KTXA HD at 8:30 p.m. CT. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling (214) 747-MAVS.
"It's going to be a tough, long playoff series, and we have to be ready for it," Nowitzki concluded.
Note: The Mavs-Spurs First Round series schedule is as follows:
Game 2 – Wed April 21 San Antonio at Dallas 8:30PM TXA21/ TNT
Game 3 – Fri April 23 Dallas at San Antonio 8:30PM TXA21/ ESPN
Game 4 – Sun April 25 Dallas at San Antonio 6:00PM TXA21/ TNT
Game 5 * Tue April 27 San Antonio at Dallas TBD TXA21/ TBD
Game 6 * Thu April 29 Dallas at San Antonio TBD TXA21/ TBD
Game 7 * Sat May 1 San Antonio at Dallas TBD TXA21/ TNT
Mavs.com has introduces a new, interactive webcast entitled "Technical Foul," hosted by Mavs television broadcasters Mark Followill and Bob Ortegel. The second live-streamed broadcast will be Tuesday, April 20 at 12:30 p.m. CT, recapping Game 1 and previewing Game 2 of the series. Earl K. Sneed will also talk with fans and answer questions via a live chat during the show. Tune in for exclusive Mavs talk with the people that know the team the best.